Where Can Wineries Really Innovate? In Engaging The People Who Actually Drink The Stuff!

Vinted on January 25, 2012 binned in commentary, going pro, wine 2.0

I was recently interviewed by WineSpiralProject.com, as part of their series on wine industry innovation, in which they interview personalities in the wine world and ask them to share thoughts on the wine biz and how it can/should innovate.

Yeah, I know, I’m not 100% certain why they picked me either, but what’s done is done so let’s just roll with it, okay?

You can check out the entire series of interviews at this link; I’ll give the the super-short, edited-down-to-the-bare-bones-Cliff-Notes version of my interview right here:

Wineries are amazing at production innovation; Wineries suck at engagement innovation.

It’s not in bottling lines or fermentation vessels that we need an innovation push in the wine biz; we need innovation in adjusting the attitude that most wine producers have towards consumers. What do I mean by “engagement innovation?” Short answer: using the single most innovative outreach platform ever developed in the history of the human race – the Internet – to directly engage the people who buy their shiz. This may sound like common sense to you, but a lot of the producers I encounter seem to need reminding that those consumers – and not critics – are the ones who matter the most

Yes, critics have reach. They can and do expose wine brands to markets that otherwise might not know they’d exist. But if I were a small-production winery, I’d be worrying a hell of a lot more about how to reach, engage, and keep customers I had (as well as engaging new ones) than trying to get a crazy-good review with critics that have substantial followings in the hopes that those followings will buy up every last drop, allowing them to quintuple prices and retire in the outer Hebrides.

Because that scenario is about as likely as Bon Jovi opening for my band on a world tour. In other words, for most producers it’s a total waste of time. And I am saying this as, in part, a wine critic – because after people do you the honor of following your thoughts about wine, and publicly declare on social media platforms that they are going to buy or avoid a wine that you write about because of what you said – or didn’t say – about it, then for all intents and purposes you are now a wine critic (at least, to them!).

But engaging customers and turning them into potential life-long fans of your brand? That’s happening every few seconds every day on social media platforms. To quote, well, myself from the interview (emphasis provided as published by WineSpiralProject.com):

“Wineries have the ability, through social media, to reach younger wine consumers directly and be just as influential on their buying decisions as Wine Spectator, Robert Parker, or little ol’ me. That is an amazing opportunity and those that do it right are gonna beat the pants off of those who don’t in the marketplace eventually. It takes time, and a long-term view because the influence is done via one-on-one relationships – patience is going to pay off in that case!”

That’s why I think it qualifies as “innovation” (sorry the rationale is coming so late, for those who have been waiting for it): because it’s nearly the opposite approach as compared to what most wine producers are doing in (not) reaching out to their customers right now.

Honestly, I’ve got no idea what producers (especially smaller wine producers) are waiting for when it comes to outreach. Well, aside from fear of the unknown, I mean. In my view, they should stop wasting time complaining about social media and just start using that time on social media to connect with customers already.

That’s sure-as-sh*t what I’d be doing if I made wine right now.

Cheers!

43

 

 

    Comments

  • @MiamiMaltBomb


    I agree. I think breweries have generally done a much better job of engaging their customers via social media. Some have blogs, where they inform customers of new releases, cool stuff going on within the brewery, etc. Whereas with wineries, how do I really know what's going on? They are inaccessible ivory towers, in a sense. Of course, some are going to be more savvy than others, but…

    • 1WineDude


      @MiamiMaltBomb – Thanks! I've got a local beer example here, Victory, who is doing a great job engaging customers on-line. Cheers!

  • Todd - VT Wine Media


    As I read the first part of your title on the twitter feed, my mind had already leapt and arrived at the second half before reading it. With so much technical innovation, and quality increase in winemaking, it is easy to see how folks can be subtle deluded into thinking "ferment it and they will come."
    You are right on target. Engagement innovation is probably the most accesible point of change for a winery, should align itself with the individual character of the operation, and has the highest likelihood for ROI.
    Sure, technical innovation has made engagement more fluid, but so many still take an attitude of "post it and they will read".

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Todd!

  • Todd - VT Wine Media


    In my limited experience, tasting, with a positive, enthusiastic representative is the biggest conversion factor for sales, and for brand loyalty. It seems to me that it would be a natural for wineries to have their digital outreach manager, hit the road periodically to do farmers markets, festivals, art shows, and engage the physical plane in parallel with the electronic one. Rather than try to create relationships online, meet them in the real world, then convert them to customers, and advocates. Take the story outside of the tasting room. Using facilities to host community events is another way to introduce new people, and galvanize existing customers. Just last night, I was at Lincoln Peak Vineyard in New Haven, VT, and they hosted Dr. Scott Burns, Portland State U. on a Talk about Terroir, soil science and wine, sponsored by the Middlebury College Geology Dept. It was very well attended, especially for a Tuesday night, and I heard more than one person say afterwards, that they hope there will be more such gatherings.
    Cheers.

  • Wine Spiral Project


    Hi Joe,
    Once again thanks for your collaboration with @Winespiralpro, we hope that little by little the mentality in the wine biz will be more open-minded and wineries MUST rely on social media to reach the final (and younger) costumers.
    Their active participation in this media, together with a good strategic plan of communication, could be the solution for new client engagement.
    Thanks again!
    Wine Spiral Project Team

    • 1WineDude


      Wine Spiral Project – Thank *you*. Seems to have touched off some interesting debate :).

  • Tom


    Hi Joe,

    I think a lot of the problem is that these small wineries are one- or two-person operations and reflect the personalities of those involved. Most winemakers I know are far better at making wine than selling it. But they have to, and social media is an easy way to do it.

    • 1WineDude


      Tom – fair point; but then, the same skillset is needed to sell via more traditional channels, so *someone* has to do it eventually…

  • Paul Mabray


    Amen.

  • Bill Smart


    Joe – this is an excellent argument to engage with someone such as yourself for consulting help. Fear of the unknown or whatever the road block is – this stuff is not rocket science. A little nudging from you and they are off and running. FB and Twitter doesn't have to occupy a bunch of time. It just needs to be part of the daily business routine.

    • 1WineDude


      Bill – exactly! That's a key point, the effort is not actually all that big, but the payoff is customer loyalty (that *is* big :). Cheers!

  • John Kelly


    Joe – Sure there are a lot of wineries big and small that don't get it. And there are a lot of wineries big that think they get it and fail completely. But it's not innovation really for those of us that have been doing it for years. Check our Yelp reviews.

    • 1WineDude


      John – believe me, I know. But worldwide? Trust me, you are in the minority.

  • winethropology


    I had my head up my ass about this (as señor Heimoff still appears to) until watching one winemaker go from a miserable little brochure website to selling out of all bottled inventory (direct to consumer, mind you) in the middle of the worst market this industry has seen. How? Social media monitoring and engagement, baby. The total $ cost for this miraculous transformation? Zilch. Total time invested? I'd ask him, but he's skiing in Aspen. Amazing what happens when you got your priorities straight.

    So, should wineries be leveraging SM more? Only if they're running a business.

    • 1WineDude


      winethropology – Thanks. Steve did read (way) too much into this post I think, but then in his defense I am kind of attacking the traditional role of the critic, which is his bread and butter, so it would be understandable for him to defend that. But I am not saying that critics should be ignored entirely – just that smaller producers may want to rethink any strategy that relies solely on one medium, like critical coverage, to help market and sell their juice. Not only because that role is diminishing, but also because of the opportunities available in reaching customers directly on the Internet (great examples given by you there on that! :). Cheers!

      • Suzanne


        I agree that social media provides incredible opportunities today to engage with consumers in a way that was unimaginable only a few years ago. But have you guys stopped for a minute to really consider the resources available at small wineries? I live in France and the winemakers I know work 7 days a week in the vineyard, in the cellar, travelling to events to showcase their wines, and just trying to keep up with normal business administration. Give them a break! Don't they deserve to sleep from time to time? Your suggestion may be that they should hire assistance but that will of course affect pricing which could in turn alienate long-time existing customers as well as new clients and markets. There is a lot more to this argument than the American press is willing to admit.

        • 1WineDude


          Suzanne – no one is saying that wine produces don't work hard. But this stuff takes much less time than people who aren't doing it say that it does. And I was able to build me brand using it in the wine world, from nothing, and doing it in between a career day job, family, band… If I can do it, I know that small producers can also do it, and I can say with confidence that I didn't have much more free time available than almost any small wine producer.

  • Jeff Stai


    I'm sorry, anyone who says that social media is an easy way to generate sales is way off base. Let's all first remind ourselves that NOTHING is easy, that whatever success you find in this business is going to be hard work. With 1000's of wineries to compete with, what else do you expect? "If you ferment it, they will come?"

    I've spent years on social media to get my winery to where it is today: still having to work hard to sell, practically one bottle at a time.

    What I can say is that social media has helped to acquire and keep customers, to keep our customers and fans aware of the brand, and to maybe bring a little of that Twisted feeling into their daily lives if they choose to take it. To do this I have to be constantly clever, funny, and thinking up new shit. Fortunately I enjoy this.

    But if you come into social media thinking of it as a magic bullet or as low hanging fruit… you are fooling yourself.

    • 1WineDude


      Jeff – salient point. Do you think you'd have been as successful without being able to engage those customers on-line, one on one? I don't know the answer but I suspect it's "probably not" (but then, you're resourceful enough to have worked hard and gotten results without it I think!).

      • Jeff Stai


        The answer is absolutely "probably not" ;) But I have been at this for years to get to where I have gotten. I've seen so many try it for a week or month or 3 months and then just drift away… "An hour a day to easy success" is BS – like anything else, it takes Real Work(tm) and persistence to stand out from the noise.

        • 1WineDude


          Jeff – Mark Oldman told me recently, “don't quit five minutes before the miracle happens!” I think that gets a bit at what you're saying here; so much of this can come done to grit and perseverance, particularly on-line where the payoff happens over a longer term, person by person.

  • gabe


    I work at a small winery, and we advertise almost exclusively through social media. The advantages are obvious – you are reaching a community that is already interested in your product, you have 100% creative control over your message, and best of all, it's free!

    There is one big downside. While you mentioned that social media is a great way to main relationships with your current customers, it doesn't really help us reach out to a new audience. As a young and growing winery, it helps us to maintain our customer base, but not grow our customer base.

    All that said, most wineries in the Willamette Valley have been using social media to build their brand. I agree with Jeff…while it is a cheap and easy way to keep in touch with our customers, it is not an easy way to build a brand. It's just one more arrow in the quiver.

    Maybe in a future post, Mr Wine Dude can plug all of our mini-winery blogs….

    • 1WineDude


      Gabe – thanks, I wanted to make sure I responded to your comment before I got to bed :). I am not at all saying that producers are not using social media to engage customers. But look at it from my perspective – I have been to a lot of regions worldwide and I can tell you that the vast majority of them are way behind the times on this. Willamette is probably ahead of the curve. But generally, we are talking probably 80% or more of the wine world that still is not doing this – and I mean is not just not really using social media, I mean they are not really engaging their customers! The point is that social media tools have leveled the playing field in terms of brands being able to reach directly the same people that I reach, or that WE reaches, etc. That is a really powerful opportunity. I would think – and hope – that more brands would want to do that than to court people like me in the hopes that I will do it for them through my reviews. hope that makes sense (it has been a looooong day and I am tired! :). Cheers!

      • gabe


        Thanks for the response!

        I guess that the wineries outside the Willamette Valley are like another universe to me…even wineries in the Columbia Valley or Southern Oregon seem to operate in another world…so when you talk about different regions of the world, I am pretty ignorant about their use of social media.

        I just wanted to repeat my main point – social media is a fantastic way to maintain your customer base, but a difficult way to GROW your customer base. That is where wine scores come in handy – they might cause somebody to taste our wine that wouldn't have otherwise. Nobody is going to friend us on facebook or read our blog unless they already like our wines.

        The one other area where social media is limited – and maybe I am getting too deep into winery marketing now – is in building a brand identity. I am lucky to work at a cool winery with a strong idea about who we are and what makes us different from other wineries. But I think there are a lot of small wineries that don't have an identity, and assume people will drink their wine because it is "good". The fact is, there is a glut of good wine; so if a winery doesn't have a story to share with their customers, then social media won't get them very far. That is another reason why wineries covet scores – it verifies the story they want to tell, that their wine is "good".

        I apologize for geeking-out so hard on this post, but it is an area that hits very close to home for me. I definitely agree with your main point, wineries should be using social media. We have actually given up traditional advertising, because social media is cheaper and more expensive. And despite the opinion of some of your critics, it's as fun and easy for winemakers to post status updates and blogs as it is for anyone else. I appreciate you bringing up the subject, and hope to hear more of your ideas in future blog posts.

        Cheers!

        • 1WineDude


          Thanks, Gabe. I actually think online tools are fantastic for brand-building, because they're the least expensive way for brands to connect with people and get their stories out there. I mean, hell, it's how I built my own brand, so to speak – so I know it works to some extent! :) cheers!

  • 1WineDude


    All – thanks so much for the great and thoughtful comments! I've been out literally from 8AM ET through 9PM ET at tastings in NYC today, so unable to respond as quickly as I would have liked (sorry about that).

    I think the operative thing in the discussion here is that there are no panaceas, and effective use of social media tools are of course included in that. :) But can a company lose by engaging their customers? Probably not – seems to be the price of entry for doing business with consumers, especially those on the younger side of the legal drinking age!

    Cheers!

  • Jason Phelps


    Joe,

    You are quite right that there is no panaceas here, but this type of assertion is showing up more an more these days. I attempted to address something just like it at the New York Cork Report and got skewered for suggesting some of the same things Steve did in his post, that the realities of dong business are different for each company and while the idea is strong we aren't accounting for evolution.

    Your general premise is a lack of engagement, but then you get specific about the Internet and SM. Lack of engagement is definitely something to consider and to me it seems like the wine world is caught in a game of catch up now that so many younger consumers want to actually have a relationship with a brand. Buying from Yellow Tail and assuming you are going to have a relationship is silly, but as they expand their palate and seek out small, independent businesses they want engagement. We need to give some businesses time to catch up because this is new demand for them.

    Back to the Internet/SM and the time required. I will go back to the idea that none of us should be so foolish to say what we would do if we were making wine as a business right now when we aren't. That applies to any business and any function we take issue with. Business owners have to make decisions and just because we think they are making a mistake leaving business and money on the table doesn't mean they have to act, and it doesn't make them wrong when they don't. Ask them why and find out more about their reality. You might still feel the way you do, but you'll have more information to put their choices into context.

    All of this comes down to the role of customer champions. Businesses can benefit greatly be engaging customers, especially the hyper-connected champions that wine bloggers and wine lovers are on social media. But we can't expect them all to just get with it. Do they see a business case to shift money and time from where it is currently spent?. It isn't free no matter how much we would like to believe it is. I've done small business IT consulting in my past and I know this very well first hand. Building an ROI argument is absolutely required and when it isn't clear, guess what? No dice.

    The mistake I made last week was that I didn't take this a bit further, and I will here. We as champions have to show the target businesses (and the industry at large) what the benefit is in real terms. This means WE NEED TO ENGAGE them to sell the concept in real terms that make sense for their business. That means we need to get to know them like a vendor. If that isn't in the cards for you personally, and I can't wait to hear your announcements, I'll understand that and stand with you in making your own responsible business decisions of where to spend your time. In that case you'd be a perfect example of the very idea I present here.

    Folks like Paul Mabry at Vintank work really hard to do just what we are talking and are getting results, but maybe not as much as they would like. I am betting some of the realities they come in contact with play a part. They continue to be optimistic, and they should, but they are learning by engaging just like you suggest.

    Jason

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Jason – you're right, the point is engagement. The Internet is the cheapest way to do it, but not the only way. It will continue to become more important, I firmly believe that, but one channel of engagement won't cover ever customer base and it needs to be part of a whole, a bigger bi of strategy to reach those people – to your point, the *key* thing is to actually try to reach them! Cheers!

  • katherine


    I was at a meeting awhile back with 30+ small wineries/producers where we talked about the various aspects of engaging the consumer, facebook, email blasts etc.. I was surprised to hear that so many of them did not participate in these activities. I find that especially for smaller size brands that social media is effective as a way to educate the consumer on your wines, your story, the wine industry and more. I dont believe that social media is only about retaining your existing customer base, as we have collected new buyers. But as many have stated, its another tool in the bag.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, katherine!

  • William Allen


    As someone who spent over 2 years consulting to wineries for marketing and social media (which btw Joe is going to be quite challenging, not being local, so good luck if thats the plan) and now switched over recently to my own small winery (Two Shepherds) AND a new day job, I can tell you its not as easy as it appears from the other side of the fence.

    Sonoma County, especially North Sonoma, probably not unlike a few other AVAs/regions is dominated by very small wineries, mostly self funded, often husband/wife teams that may also have a day job, and barely eak out an existence in this awesome, but super challenging, low margin industry.

    I certainly will agree that customer engagement is important and social media is a great tool. Its does also take a grasp of technology, and some basic marketing sense/skills, which the small wineries are often lacking.
    And every task and minute I spend on Twitter, is one I haven't on production, marketing, phone calls, vineyard inspection, floor mopping, tank cleaning, barrel sulfuring, calling on restaurants, or the dozens of other tasks that consume a day.

    Anyone notice how quiet it gets around harvest from some brands? When you are up 14-18 hours a day, and perhaps raising a family, have another business, haven't slept for days, weeks, that extra hour of sleep, or finally responding to customer email, is coming ahead of an hour Twitter engagement.

    What is ODD to me is the larger wineries, with 2- person marketing teams, who are so so, or non existent in this regard. Which comes back to the mantra that this industry as a whole is lacking in marketing and technology adoption/innovation.

    I did manage to sneak some SM in this harvest, a lot less than I wanted, (which remains that way, especially on Twitter) but I am much less critical now after my 2nd production year, and the impact it has, and will again, on what can be done.

    • 1WineDude


      Hi William – thanks for the perspective. I can tell you that SM consulting with wineries is NOT on my agenda, that is 100% rumor and seems to have been started by Steve Heimoff when he (sort of) dissected this post over on his blog. He misread a lot of what I was trying to get at here, I think, and the SM one-on-one consulting was (I am guessing here) part of that misread. Cheers!

  • William Allen


    (oops meant to post solo, not as a reply)
    As someone who spent over 2 years consulting to wineries for marketing and social media (which btw Joe is going to be quite challenging, not being local, so good luck if thats the plan) and now switched over recently to my own small winery (Two Shepherds) AND a new day job, I can tell you its not as easy as it appears from the other side of the fence.

    Sonoma County, especially North Sonoma, probably not unlike a few other AVAs/regions is dominated by very small wineries, mostly self funded, often husband/wife teams that may also have a day job, and barely eak out an existence in this awesome, but super challenging, low margin industry.

    I certainly will agree that customer engagement is important and social media is a great tool. Its does also take a grasp of technology, and some basic marketing sense/skills, which the small wineries are often lacking.
    And every task and minute I spend on Twitter, is one I haven't on production, marketing, phone calls, vineyard inspection, floor mopping, tank cleaning, barrel sulfuring, calling on restaurants, or the dozens of other tasks that consume a day.

    Anyone notice how quiet it gets around harvest from some brands? When you are up 14-18 hours a day, and perhaps raising a family, have another business, haven't slept for days, weeks, that extra hour of sleep, or finally responding to customer email, is coming ahead of an hour Twitter engagement.

    What is ODD to me is the larger wineries, with 2- person marketing teams, who are so so, or non existent in this regard. Which comes back to the mantra that this industry as a whole is lacking in marketing and technology adoption/innovation.

    I did manage to sneak some SM in this harvest, a lot less than I wanted, (which remains that way, especially on Twitter) but I am much less critical now after my 2nd production year, and the impact it has, and will again, on what can be done.

  • Team MV


    Great posting. We started looking at the customer engagement in the Wine industry and we are exploring how our Customer Engagement Platform can help Wineries, Wine Events, Consumers connect to each other in a perpetual manner.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, MV! Would be interested to see the results of that. Cheers!

  • LuvVint


    Great read! while I very much agree that the 'wine industry' as a whole is underusing social media technology to its full potential, I also think that it is potentially dangerous to collapse the entire wine category (and therefore all of its consumers) into one homogenous group. Wineries need to understand WHO their customers and HOW to best engage them. For instance, if you are a producer who makes wines in the $50+ category, the age/gender/purchasing behaviour of your consumers is likely to be much different than a producer of whimsical $10 wine. As such, the 'touch-points' for best communicating to both of these consumers is also likely to be different. This isn't to say that in this day and age, social media is not important for all types of consumers, but rather that how you allocate your marketing resources/spend, especially if you are a small producer, is likely to vary if the majority of your consumers are Millennial girls vs Baby Boomer men. This may also explain why small producers aren't jumping as quickly on social media as a marketing tool if they know that their best customers (existing and potential) prefer other mediums for brand engagement.

    • 1WineDude


      LuvVint- Thanks, and you make a great point about how segmented the market for wine is. Having said that, the overarching point for me is that wine brands need to start dialing this stuff into their media plans NOW, not later, and leverage some of the power that they have to influence how their brand is perceived. Cheers!

  • @FullBloomMktg


    “Wineries are amazing at production innovation; Wineries suck at engagement innovation.” http://t.co/zVIbuwmY #winerymarketing

The Fine Print

This site is licensed under Creative Commons. Content may be used for non-commercial use only; no modifications allowed; attribution required in the form of a statement "originally published by 1WineDude" with a link back to the original posting.

Play nice! Code of Ethics and Privacy.

Contact: joe (at) 1winedude (dot) com

Google+

Labels

Vintage

Find